Home broadband subscription rates continue to lag in rural areas, holding back local economies and access to telemedicine. The deployment of broadband networks to rural areas echoes the challenges earlier generations had ensuring that electrical networks and telephone service reached everyone. The solutions those earlier generations employed provide us lessons for today’s broadband challenges. Through the 1930s, many power companies ignored rural areas of the nation even when the federal government offered loans to serve these sparsely populated areas.
My theme today – what is going unnoticed. Simply put, we should pay more attention to the lack of competition in the provision of fixed broadband to homes and small businesses. As a general matter, we can expect people with only one choice to pay monopoly prices, and people with only two to pay the higher prices typically charged by duopolies. People with three or more choices typically pay less. Clearly, people who can barely afford to pay a competitive price, say, low-income Americans, are particularly vulnerable to artificially high prices.
In communities where too many people have no access to broadband infrastructure, investing in connections to community anchor institutions is an intermediate step that can pay huge public dividends. Imperial County, located in the sparsely populated desert region of southeastern California, is an exciting example. When relying on a single telecommunications provider and its outdated technology, Imperial County school districts, higher-education institutions, and government agencies had limited access to broadband infrastructure.
Broadband networks do not reach millions of people in the United States. And this lack of access has a significant impact.
A nonprofit, member-owned organization governed by Michigan’s public universities, Merit is America’s longest running regional research and education network – founded in 1966. Merit’s management and network expertise goes back all the way to the National Science Foundation Network (NSFNet), which spawned the modern internet. After more than fifty years of innovation, Merit continues to serve higher education, K-12, library, government, health-care and public-sector members. Its work goes beyond connectivity to include security and community services.
On November 5, the Federal Communications Commission gave its final OK, approving—with conditions—the transfer of control applications filed by T-Mobile and Sprint. T-Mobile's acquisition of Sprint was first announced April 29, 2018, touting the capacity to rapidly create a nationwide 5G network while offering lower prices, better quality, unmatched value, and greater competition. Is that where we've ended up? Although T-Mobile's acquisition of Sprint has gotten approval from both the U.S. Department of Justice and the FCC, the deal isn't done yet.
On October 30, the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society will be releasing Broadband for America's Future: A Vision for the 2020s. The release is a major step in a multi-year effort to update America’s approach to broadband access for the coming decade. Over the last year or so, we've been speaking with people around the country about how communities are addressing their broadband needs.
Measuring broadband is an ongoing challenge for policymakers and, for many participants in broadband policy debates, often a source of frustration. The frustration about broadband measurement emanates from what seems knowable – at least it is about other infrastructure. We know where our roads and highways run. Today it is easy to know when they are clogged, where there are tolls, and how much those tolls cost. Electric infrastructure is essentially ubiquitous and it isn’t hard, in most places, to find out the cost of a kilowatt hour and compare prices among providers.
Perhaps the biggest news of the week was the agenda for the Federal Communications Commission's July 10 Open Meeting, which FCC Chairman Ajit Pai laid out in a blog post on June 18, 2019. I'm traveling to New York this week; below is a shorter-than-usual weekly that takes a look at how Chairman Pai plans to take education out of the Educational Broadband Service -- and broadcast television.